Solar-Powered Hearing Aids in Developing Countries

  • By pugetsound
  • 30 Oct, 2016
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5% of the world’s population suffers from disabling hearing loss. Five percent may seem like a small number, but that totals over 360 million people across the globe. Approximately two thirds of these people live in developing countries, where the access to quality healthcare and availability of treatment is significantly lower than that of the United States and other highly developed countries.

Worldwide Hearing Aid Distribution

While many of the people in developing nations could greatly benefit from the use of hearing aids , the fact of the matter is that only 10 percent of them actually have access to them. Of the estimated 9 million hearing aid units that are produced worldwide each year, only 1 million are distributed to developing countries. The six major hearing aid companies who control 90% of the world market are concentrated in Europe and North America. Furthermore, standard hearing aids are priced from about $700 and up, a price that is way out of reach of the vast majority of people in need of them in the developing world. Those who do receive hearing aids often discontinue their use after the initial battery life expires, the cost of replacement batteries also being too high to sustain, and just being able to obtain them is often impossible, as they are only available in larger cities. Another serious problem is stable access to electricity. In developing countries, there also exists a dearth of medical professionals to screen, diagnose, fit, and train in the use of hearing aids.

Hearing Loss Creates Hardship

Because of the wide availability in highly developed countries of awareness and access to treatment, along with the development of societal aids for communications, hearing loss is largely treatable and therefore not considered as debilitating as some other forms of disability. However, this is not true in developing countries, where people with hearing impairment are often overlooked for work and denied the same level of education as their hearing peers. Children everywhere typically attain language in the first six years of life . More than 90% of what babies learn is from incidental listening, and spoken language follows, building upon that to develop bonds of family, friendship, community and learning. Misinformation about the nature of hearing loss in developing countries can contribute to the marginalization and exclusion of children with hearing loss in those societies. Many hard-of-hearing children lack basic communications skills, and are considered incapable of learning by those around them. They are often therefore are denied the chance for education and training, leading to unnecessary poverty and hardship for the families affected. Many could escape this situation if only they had access to affordable, sustainable hearing aids.

Enter: SolarEar

To tackle the problems of people with hearing loss in poorer countries, company founder Howard Weinstein founded SolarEar in Botswana. SolarEar, whose employees are themselves hearing impaired, has developed a practical, ecological, and affordable solution: the first solar-powered rechargeable hearing aids. These hearing aids have the same quality as ones produced by the major hearing device manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe, but 20% or less of the cost. Since the units recharge by means of a solar charger, it is a viable option even for people without access to electrical power. Newer designs include the invention of an iPod-like device that is worn on the body, with an amplifier and an ear mold. The larger components are less expensive than the micro-components of standard hearing aids, and also address the problem of humidity – a major cause of hearing aid failure. The company has also pioneered simple mobile apps designed to test hearing ability of young children in order to identify their hearing needs without the need for a trip to a hospital or medical facility. Their goal is to reach children before the age of 3, so that they can learn to communicate, and then be able to attend public school, as there are few schools for the hearing impaired in developing countries. First developed in Botswana, the company model has been duplicated in Brazil, and is now being scaled in China and the Middle East. They plan to found 15 subsidiaries in different locations and hire as many as 4,000 additional hearing impaired workers, helping local economies and changing perceptions about the abilities of the hearing impaired. SolarEar has established a network of partners and micro-entrepreneur local distribution systems to deliver their products to millions of people in need in poverty-stricken countries throughout the developing world. They also focus on local education and training.

How You Can Help

Non-profits here in the U.S., such as Ears for Years, are working to distribute SolarEar hearing devices to kids in developing countries. Ears for Years was founded by a college student, Grace O’Brien, who was determined to make a difference, helping kids to escape poverty by distributing these solar rechargeable hearing aids to countries as diverse as South Korea, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Honduras and Nicaragua. To learn more about this remarkable young woman’s story, and how you can assist in getting these life-changing devices to those in need, click this link . You don’t have to live with untreated hearing loss! If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss , contact us at Puget Sound Hearing today for a hearing test.

Puget Sound Hearing & Audiology

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